Back to School Meals – Problems & Fixes
Now that everyone has gotten more comfortable with the lazy schedule of summer, it’s time to turn the tides back to a more structured life of school schedules. The days of sleeping in, staying up later, and winging it for meals are on pause until next May. Families are back to early morning school starts with after school activities and earlier bedtimes. So, how do we fit in providing healthy, balanced, and tasty meals now that schedules are packed and everyone is tired? How do we complete this one more task on our checklist?
First thing to do is identify your constraints or limitations. What could possibly get in the way of having healthy and balanced meals for your family? For most families, time is the biggest factor that causes problems. Whether it’s parents working, many after school activities, or busy night commitments, time definitely can prohibit cooking an elaborate, five star meal for your family. Even if you had time to prepare it, would everyone at your table eat and enjoy it? There are few meals that everyone in my family, mostly the kids, will eat in entirety with gusto. Usually I hear complaining about some faction of it. Then there’s the fact that I am tired! There are many times in which by the end of the day I am mentally and physically exhausted. The thought of preparing a meal can feel like the last straw.
So for many, myself included, getting rid of these speed bumps may not be an option. Through recognizing the things that get in the way of making healthy meals for my family, I can possibly find alternative routes to overcome them. Ideas to get around all of these interferences are not new or fancy. The best way to be successful with weeknight meals is to PLAN. You do not have to sit down with a spreadsheet or spend hours figuring it all out.A simple sheet of paper will suffice. Think about your week. When is your schedule so busy that cooking isn’t an option? When might cooking be an option but needs to be quick? Is there any day you might have more time to cook a more complex recipe? Then, plan your meals according to your time constraints.
A “no time” night may need to be leftovers or quick pick up. Even on nights you plan to order take-out or eat out, you can still make better choices if you are more thoughtful about choosing where you go and by setting limitations on your family’s ordering. For example, aim for restaurants that have a vegetable option. If choosing a more fast food type option, my kids now know, and accept, they need to get fruit as a side item.
For the “lots of time” nights, plan something you and your family will enjoy! These are the nights, although they may be few and far between, that you have time and energy to prepare anything that comes to mind. Plan for a balanced meal. If possible, make extra and freeze it. On nights when I plan on cooking, but am too mentally and physically drained to do so, these frozen meals I’ve prepared at an earlier time greatly reduce my stress. I’m providing a healthy meal for my family without having to actually get in the kitchen and cook! Win-win!
For the nights when you have a little bit of time, but not much, take advantage of quick fix meals. Here are some tips and ideas for making meals quick but healthy.
Try a crockpot meal. These should include a protein, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates. The easy part to these is that you can find recipes with low levels of preparation needed and everything can be cooked right in one spot!
Meals that you can prepare parts of in advance can be quick fix. Precook meats or buy them already cooked. Chopping vegetables in advance or even buying frozen vegetables already chopped saves time. Finding recipes with only a few ingredients can be a timesaver. Also, sometimes just having a plan for a meal, and having the foods available at home to prepare it, can save enough time to allow it to fit into your schedule.
If you don’t have time to cook fresh vegetables, frozen can be a good alternatives. So many vegetables are available in the frozen aisle. Find ones that are steamed and with minimum sauces. Keeping salads on hand is another quick healthy side item.
So remember, the big plan is to actually have a plan. It doesn’t have to be complex. It just has to be thought of in advance – from menu planning, to grocery shopping, to preparing the fabulously planned meal. And you’re off to a good start of healthy meals for your family!
Olivia McCay is a Registered Dietitian with Wellness Systems, a nutrition counseling company. She is also a busy mom to two kiddos, ages 8 & 5 and enjoys cooking new things for her husband and family to eat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crockpot Chicken Fajitas
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
1 medium yellow bell pepper, sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
(or can substitute all of the above for frozen bag of pre sliced fajita style vegetables)
fajita seasoning (bought or recipe of: 1-1 ½ tbsp chili powder, 2 tsp cumin, ½ tsp paprika, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper)
1 lb chicken breast
½ c. chicken broth (can use low sodium)
6-8 flour tortillas
toppings of choice (cheese, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, salsa, fresh cilantro, etc.)
Add peppers and onion to crockpot and sprinkle with seasoning. Top with chicken breasts and broth. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or high for 3-4 hours. Remove chicken from crockpot and after cooled slightly slice or shred. Add chicken back to crockpot and mix. Serve on tortillas with desired toppings.